Church Choirs Shouldn’t be Declining Because of Lack of Interest

Chorus America, a nationally-known advocacy, research, and leadership development organization that supports the choral art, has written much on the the benefits of singing. Most recently, an article came out in June (Chorus America Article ) that lauds the benefits of singing for a lifetime. Here is a link to the findings of that study. After reading this article and the major findings of the story, I was very encouraged by the increase in choral participation in America.

What I didn’t understand was about the same time I was reading this article, I was hearing from friends across the nation and reading other articles about the continued decline of choirs in churches. I don’t want to list the myriad of reasons why choirs are declining in our churches, that’s for another post. However, if the current Chorus America research that suggests that choral singing in America is NOT declining, maybe our churches shouldn’t assume that no one wants/enjoys singing. Further, with many singers actively singing in a choir, our churches shouldn’t assume that no one wants to listen to a choir either. What I found interesting, was the authors indicated that in the last ten years worship attendance has declined as well as social clubs, while choral participation has done just the opposite.

While the article mentions the benefits of singing to increased quality of life, physical health, greater activity in their churches and community, and stronger relationships, I want to focus on a few items that I think stick out to me as it pertains to why church choirs should be an integral part of any church:

  1. 43 million American adults and 11 million children are singing in choirs today. 54 million Americans. Please remind me—anyone why naysayers say no one without white hair wants to hear or participate in a choir? In fact this research suggests that having choirs will INCREASE participation in any organization (community, school, or church). These numbers are UP to 17% from 14% since 2008. 
  2. The key to lifelong singing is starting when children are young. The findings, either school or faith communities that have graded choir programs, see the greatest number of students who will become lifelong singers. I’m convinced that churches that cease to invest in student choirs (elementary and youth) will never have a strong adult program.
  3. Having a choir might actually increase your attendance in your faith community. Choir members tend to be more faithful and more committed to being in worship when they have a reason to serve.

Personally, when I think of the role being in a choral group has given me, I think back to less about the musical experience itself, although I’ve had some incredible times musically, but to what being a part of a choral group taught me. Being in a choir has taught me how to yield my personal preferences for the good of the whole. I’ve learned how to be a leader by helping my fellow singers by pulling my weight (being in tune, singing correct intervals and rhythms, etc) and how to get along with others. Choir (or any musical group, really) is about mutual submission, conflict resolution, helping others when they need it, and demonstrating leadership. Yes, many of these things are important in non-choir church musical groups, but because choirs are generally larger than a 5-6 piece band, the opportunity for many (of various musical abilities) to serve and use their talents increases.

 

 

 

Let’s Just Call it What it is…

To divide congregations into groups, style groups, and preference groups is to be semi- or even pseudocorporate. The body of Christ is as chronologically and stylistically whole as it is spiritually whole Harold Best in Unceasing Worship (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2003).

If music were to be eliminated from so called “traditional” or “contemporary” services, would there need to be different types of services? That’s right, very little. Let’s call it what it is—preference of music is the driving factor for having separate types of musical types at one church. And because music seems to be the driving factor in these decisions, worship becomes less about the preaching of the Word and the proclamation of the gospel and more about preferences of music, which are at best subjective. Hear me, I’m FOR all kinds of music…especially music that fits the cultural context of the church and demographic of your area. Be authentic, but be unified. It’ll take everyone being mutually submissive.

We’ve missed the point of, and driving force of worship, which is the centrality of the Word of God infused in every aspect of our corporate worship. Our churches should crave the spiritual food through the exposition of the Word week in and week out. I don’t want to hear platitudes on how to live my best life, I’d rather hear what the Word of God preached through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit has to say about how I need to be daily humbling myself, taking up my cross, and following Him by  loving my neighbor as myself.

Be A Leader Who’s Always Growing

I’m always amazed when the Lord chooses to speak to me with a very direct word from one of His saints. Often the person who speaks a word of encouragement into my life probably doesn’t realize the impact a few simple words has. Regardless, I’m thankful for the word I received last night.

As I was leaving rehearsals last night, one of my choir members drove by me in the parking lot as I was heading out of the church and rolled his window down and said, “you’re doing a great job, Will. I’ve really seen you grow over the last few years.” My first reaction was, “I appreciate that; I love having you in the choir.” As he drove off, I thought about what he just said and my first thought was, ” WAIT! You’ve noticed ME growing?” The reason this startled me at first was because over the last 6 and half years, my role has been to grow our music ministry…and that the Lord has. We’ve seen tremendous growth in our numbers, spiritual focus, and musicality. There is much chatter about how the Lord continues to build His church here. However, it never occurred to me that anyone would notice my own growth. Somehow I had forgotten that the demands of a music ministry of 60-70 when I arrived are certainly not the same now that we have 240. While I knew the Lord has brought this growth, I was reminded last night (convicted, really) that my personal abilities were not the reason we grew. My supposed “advanced” leadership skills and “maturity” were not why we grew. Nope! Thankfully, the Lord has grown His church anyway AND grown me to meet the challenges of that which He has called me to.

As I’ve thought about the encouragement to me over the next several hours, the Lord revealed to me how I’ve grown personally in my spiritual life and my ability to lead effectively both on an off the platform. Those simple words of encouragement have allowed me to thank the Lord for the journey over these last several years. Maybe you the reader need this same encouragement, so here are a few things I’ve realized that God has shown me that I think have helped me grow:

  1. Delegate. As our program has gotten larger, I know I cannot do everything. Identify and invest in key people to do things you cannot (or not able) to do.
  2. People are everything. People first. If this is hard for you–get care group leaders and have them help you—but stay tuned to your people’s needs.
  3. Communicate Effectively. Communication takes various forms, but it’s essential that you keep all in the loop. Again, if you’re weak in this area, enlist help from others…but don’t leave people out of the loop.
  4. Plan Ahead. Have a plan for each season and year. Be ready at rehearsal with a plan of where you want to go. An effective teacher always has a lesson plan. Study your scores so you may anticipate problems. If you’re blessed to have strong musicians, they’ll know when you’re unprepared for rehearsal.  Don’t be lazy! I’m convinced laziness is one of the roots to why pastoral musicians are asked to leave churches. 
  5. Demonstrate Value. I cannot stress this enough. Make sure every person feels like they are a contributing member of your group. From the weakest musician to the strongest, be sure each has an integral role (although not always equal role) in worship leadership.

This encouragement has reminded me that I have NOT arrived! My journey is not complete. The Lord is refining and growing me more into His image for His glory. God is continuing to equip me for the road ahead. May I serve with excellence, faithfulness, and humility.